Communication will be king, as companies look to ease lockdown
Six weeks into lockdown and thousands of us are continuing to work from home. But many industries cannot operate remotely and are starting to look at how they recommence work, while adhering to strict social distancing guidelines.
Naturally people are nervous about easing lockdown restrictions and there is a careful balance to be struck. But with thousands of people out of work and 140,000 companies applying to the Government’s job retention scheme in the first 24 hours, sensible steps to re-starting the economy can be taken.
In our latest newsletter we have looked at the industries taking that first step, what lessons we can learn from essential industries that have continued to operate during Covid-19 and how to effectively communicate the steps being taken.
The construction industry found itself in a difficult situation in March. Government advice on the classification of construction workers was initially unclear, resulting in criticism from local communities and a backlash in the media. Many in the industry took the decision to close sites and the housing market has effectively been put on pause.
While Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick is encouraging more housebuilders to reopen their sites, housebuilders that are starting to remobilise need to ensure they are communicating properly to their different audience groups.
Construction workers going back out on site are the face of a company and they need to have been adequately trained in new site protocols and safety measures – the media, local residents and councilors are watching closely.
Training videos shared with contractors and sub-contractors in advance of the re-start will be vital, sharing these videos on social channels will also be an additional way of proactively reassuring neighbours and customers that the appropriate steps are being taken.
As housebuilders issue guidance to media on timelines for activity on sites to start again, a planned approach to dealing with completions and snagging needs to be communicated to customers – otherwise companies’ risk being inundated with queries over specific plots and timescales. While social media is an effective way of issuing messages far and wide, putting in place a process to give people individual, timely updates will be essential.
Traditional doorstep leafleting of homes on sites where work is going to recommence and customers have already moved in, alongside targeted paid for social media spend, would also ensure widespread awareness of the steps being taken and contact details should they have any queries.
Hill, a privately owned top 20 UK housebuilder, showed how joined up communications between colleagues and contractors can demonstrate a commitment to health and safety, while delivering essential homes – many for key workers.
Supermarkets have been at the forefront of Covid-19, with companies putting in place measures to protect both staff and customers from the spread of the virus. The next step will be the opening of ‘non-essential’ stores and a lot can be learnt from how supermarkets have handled the pandemic.
Helpfully consumers are now more used to standing in line, the British do love a queue, before being allowed into a shop. This can be easily replicated in clothes and book stores, but with people more likely to browse in these shops, companies will need to think about optimal layouts to avoid over-crowding. One-way systems, floor stickers, screens to protect counter staff and reducing stock on display are some of the options retailers will be considering.
Restoring consumer confidence and encouraging people back onto high streets will be another challenge – Covid-19 has made people more conscious of what and how much they consume. Proactively setting out the steps being taken to reassure people that it is safe to come into stores will be important. It would be worth doing this early on, ahead of stores re-opening, to reassure customers that it hasn’t been rushed, but well thought out and planned.
Timpson, the family run shoe repair and key cutting business, has started testing the waters by re-opening with sneeze screens, masks and visors and social distancing in place. The company culture described by James Timpson in an interview with the FT on Sunday (3 May) is clever positioning – showing that the 150-year old business puts colleagues at the heart of business decisions.
The homebuying process
Property portal Zoopla recently revealed that 373,000 property transactions have been put on ice since the lockdown began and Government suspended the housing market. The property market accounts for thousands of jobs, from estate agents and surveyors to solicitors and removal firms. Re-starting this part of the market will enable sellers and buyers to transact again and help stimulate the economy.
Ultimately a considerable amount of the housing market works with limited interactions, you often look around an empty house with an estate agent, the surveyor will arrange an appointment with the estate agent and lots of legal advice is given over email or on the phone. Many people will be unaware of how ‘hands-off’ the homebuying process is and the proactivity from the industry to go digital will further increase the ability for transactions to take place with limited face to face interaction.
As the first industries start to take small steps out of lockdown the country will be watching closely to see which companies make a success of it. No-one wants to see a second wave, and no company wants to be criticised for mishandling their approach.
At Instinctif Partners, we have a team of specialists who can provide advice on effective communications to internal and external audiences, protecting and enhancing your reputation. We can help you navigate Covid-19 and beyond. Get in touch with us today to find out more: TellMeMore@instinctif.com